Before we get to the burgeoning civil war, let’s talk about the place and why people care. Kazakhstan has major deposits of petroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore, manganese, chrome ore, nickel, cobalt, copper, molybdenum, lead, zinc, bauxite, gold, and uranium. A number of foreign corporate interests have been setting up shop in Nur-Sultan (capitol), buying gifts and trying to impress the president-for-life and his family who run the place as if they own it all. (If it sounds a lot like the Bidens, Hunter was there too, now his scratchings sell for more than the Old Masters).
A Few Maps
Ethnic Kazakhs derive from a mix of Turkic nomadic tribes that migrated to the region in the 15th century. The Kazakh steppe was conquered by the Russian Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries, and Kazakhstan became a Soviet Republic in 1925. Repression and starvation caused by forced agricultural collectivization led to more than a million deaths in the early 1930s from starvation. (hint: never let the government control your food).
During the 1950s and 1960s, the agricultural “Virgin Lands” program led to an influx of settlers (mostly ethnic Russians, but also other nationalities) and at the time of Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991, ethnic Kazakhs were a minority. Non-Muslim ethnic minorities departed Kazakhstan in large numbers from the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s and a national program has repatriated about a million ethnic Kazakhs (from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Mongolia, and the Xinjiang region of China) back to Kazakhstan. As a result of this shift, the ethnic Kazakh share of the population now exceeds two-thirds.
Kazakhstan’s economy is the largest in the Central Asian states, mainly due to the country’s vast natural resources. Current issues include: diversifying the economy, obtaining membership in global and regional international economic institutions, enhancing Kazakhstan’s economic competitiveness, and strengthening relations with neighboring states and foreign powers.
By looking at the maps, you can understand why Russia has an interest in the place, occupying. a two-time zone long stretch on its southern border.
As the city hall in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, stood in flames and protesters pulled down the statue of the country’s first President (for life) Nursultan Nazarbayev, the image of the post-Soviet country as a beacon of stability in the volatile region disintegrated. Foreign businessmen intent on making themselves rich, fled, and the Russians heeded the call to send in troops to restore order.
The president (for life) has a big family and as the government took over the energy sector, they agreed to manage it. Yes, you could see an energy expert like Hunter running America’s energy, couldn’t you, with The Big Guy getting 10%? Same thing in Kazakhstan. The President’s Family is unhappy with the distribution because the government has been subsidizing liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which most Kazakhs use as car fuel. They could keep the subsidy money if they ended it, so on January 1, they did and the price of home heating fuel and automobile fuel doubled. People were unhappy with the move and started lighting things on fire, killing police officers, etc.
Even though the government announced on Tuesday that fuel prices will be reduced to a level even lower than before the increase, and on Wednesday President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev sacked his cabinet the protests continued.
“Tokayev and the government might discuss the social and economic situation in the country and they may decide to raise salaries and social payments in the hope that it will ease the tensions. But in the end, everyone understands that the reforms won’t be real,” said Daniyar Khassenov, a Kazakh political activist based in Kyiv.
The chant “Shal ket!” (“Old men must go!”) has been on the lips of protesters across Kazakhstan. And it is not a secret who Kazakhs have in mind.
Nazarbayev officially stepped down as president (for life – sorta) in 2019 and was replaced by his ally Tokayev. Nazarbayev subsequently took over as the head of the Security Council and it became clear that the old ruler was not eager to relinquish his power.
“Everyone in the country understands that Tokayev is just a nominee and that he doesn’t have any political power and influence within the country. The chants refer to the whole system that Nazarbayev built – his regime,” said Bota Jardemalie, a Kazakh lawyer, human rights advocate and political activist, who received political asylum in Belgium in 2013.
“It means his family members, his daughters that the country despises, his son-in-law Timur Kulibayev who has a monopoly in every sector of the economy, especially oil and gas, and everyone understands that it’s the monopoly that is behind the hikes in [gas] prices.”
The End of a Success Story?
Since its independence, Kazakhstan has been one of the few success stories of post-Soviet transformation. Rich in natural resources, including oil, gas, copper, coal, and uranium, and with one of the lowest population densities in the world, it was well placed to flourish without its former Soviet patron.
“Then he started taking over the economy sector by sector. His family always controlled the oil and gas industry and other natural resources, but they soon started taking over other industries like construction, banking, telecom, retail,” Jardemalie said.
“Now, we have both: political and economic monopoly of Nazarbayev and his clan,” Jardemalie said.
Meanwhile, the government has been curtailing individual freedoms and civil rights, using Covid-19 as an excuse. Be still my heart, they read from the American playbook.
Political opponents have been silenced or jailed, while the government conducted smear campaigns against its critics, resorting to arbitrary detention and the use of Interpol to pursue those who left the country.
Journalists have reported on the civil war in a way that American journalists never would. Naturally, the reporters in Kazakhstan were tossed in prison. The Americans read more clearly from the government’s playbook.